WHIP it Good

Excuse the pun---but pitching is dominating college baseball and it's showing...

About a month into the 2014 season, TCU looked pretty helpless. An early loss to Jacksonville State, a series loss to Michigan State, playing a Dartmouth team very poorly, an early slump by Morrison, a questionable Sunday starter, and scoring about as much as Screech Powers at Bayside High, made it easy to point the finger at Jim Scholssnagle as this season was looking more and more like the 2013 campaign.

But starting April 1st things started to change; Morrison got out of the slump, Riley "Wild Thing" Ferrell was as lights out as Rick Vaughn himself, the mid-week guys were superb, Tyler Alexander emerged as one of the best freshman pitchers in the country, and the Frogs finally started to put runs on the board. Clearly there was a method to the madness....

Twenty-two innings of baseball tell you a lot of things. 22 innings of a 3-2 baseball game can tell you even more. For one, it can tell you how easily you can lose your mind at a baseball field watching a game until nearly 3 in the morning. But after the equivalent of two-and-a-half baseball games, one has to wonder---was it just really bad hitting or is it really great pitching?

Numbers may be telling us the latter.

WHIP It Good

There are 16 teams in the Super Regionals and ten of them rank in the Top 25 in the Nation for ERA. Five of them (Pepperdine, Texas, Houston, Virginia, TCU) in the Top 10, two in the Top 3 (Virginia, TCU), and TCU holding the Number 1 spot with a team ERA of 2.14. As you’ll see, there are 10 teams with really strong ERAs, as well as huge drop off between UC Irvine and Texas Tech.

Super Regional Teams ERA: 2014


Team


ERA

National Ranking

TCU

2.14

1

Virginia

2.29

3

Houston

2.29

6

Texas

2.36

8

Pepperdine

2.52

10

Vanderbilt

2.67

16

Ole Miss

2.67

17

Louisville

2.78

19

College of Charleston

2.78

20

UC Irvine

2.82

21

Texas Tech

3.27

51

Oklahoma State

3.27

54

Maryland

3.36

64

La-Lafayette

3.38

67

Kennesaw State

3.39

68

Stanford

3.46

79

If we're doing WHIP, the numbers are quite similar---but the rankings vary slightly. All but Kennesaw State (108) are in the Top-100. Oklahoma State comes in at 100, Stanford comes in at 88 and Texas Tech is barely outside the Top-50 at 52. Texas (23), Ole Miss (22), Pepperdine (16) and UC Irvine are all in the Top-25, and if we're being generous, La-Lafayette and Louisville come in at 26 and 28 respectively. College of Charleston, Vanderbilt, and Houston all rank in the Top 10, with Virginia and TCU coming in at numbers 1 and 2 respectively.

Super Regional Teams WHIP: 2014


Team


WHIP

National Ranking

Virginia

1.02

1

TCU

1.02

2

Houston

1.05

4

Vanderbilt

1.11

7

College of Charleston

1.12

8

UC Irvine

1.15

14

Pepperdine

1.18

16

Ole Miss

1.20

22

Texas

1.20

23

La-Lafayette

1.23

26

Louisville

1.23

28

Maryland

1.24

33

Texas Tech

1.27

52

Stanford

1.33

84

Oklahoma State

1.35

100

Kennesaw State

1.36

108

While the average strength of pitching is fairly consistent, the hitting statistics aren't so fancy---and they’re all over the place. Only four of the teams – La-Lafayette (2), Ole Miss (11), Kennesaw State (17) and Texas Tech (41) – rank in the Top-50 in batting average. We've talked about this before, but the miscreant of the lower averages, fewer home runs, and fewer runs per game was the introduction of the BBCOR bats in 2011 and continues to show…

Team


Batting Average

National Ranking

La-Lafayette

.319

1

Ole Miss

.306

11

Kennesaw State

.306

17

Texas Tech

.290

41

Louisville

.286

54

Pepperdine

.284

58

TCU

.282

72

Vanderbilt

.279

84

Houston

.278

88

Oklahoma State

.278

89

Virginia

.277

93

Stanford

.272

133

Maryland

.272

134

UC Irvine

.271

135

Texas

.267

166

College of Charleston

.258

213

This is certainly helping pitchers out, but that shouldn't take any credit away from them either. While the number of home runs and runs scored are down significantly, K/9 have stayed pretty consistent. This is telling for future success because it has less to do with the BBCOR standard than most of the other pitching stats do. Thus, strikeout pitchers are still a top commodity---and rightfully so. In Keith Law's latest Mock Draft, Brandon Finnegan, who leads the Nation in K/9 with 12.09, is projected to go Number 17 to the Kansas City Royals.

On the contrary is a guy like Big 12 pitcher of the Year, Preston Morrison---who, like his hero Greg Maddux, is a groundball pitcher and thrives on weak contact. As a result, Morrison boasts the Super Regional's second-best ERA at 1.24, a mere fraction behind Houston's brilliant Tyler Ford. Despite the BBCORs producing similar stats to that when wood bats were still universally used, coming in during BBCOR-standard era, where weaker contact is much more common, has hurt guys like Morrison's draft status.

These individual pitching stats may be telling of one's future success in the MLB, but how does it relate right now in the Supers? Does mediocre hitting work itself around great pitching? Things like OBP and Runs Per Game may be telling a slightly different story. The RPGs are fairly scattered, but the important thing to consider is how many runs these teams need to score, thus OBP may be more telling of the micro-ball clubs like TCU, Texas, Virginia, and Houston.

Team


Runs Per Game

National Ranking

La-Lafayette

7.9

4

Louisville

6.4

23

Oklahoma State

6.2

34

Texas Tech

6.2

37

Kennesaw Sate

6.1

38

Ole Miss

6.1

39

Vanderbilt

5.6

78

Virginia

5.5

89

Pepperdine

5.5

94

Maryland

5.4

102

Houston

5.3

115

TCU

5.2

126

Col. Of Charleston

5.0

152

Stanford

4.8

176

Texas

4.6

188

UC Irvine

4.4

219

Back to the need to score thing. We've established that pitching dominated teams are dominating the Supers this year---La-Lafayette and Louisville are the only two team to rank in the Top-25 in runs scored (remember there were 10 teams ranked in the Top 25 for ERA and 9 for WHIP)---but is there a way show it? Maybe.

Team


Runs Per Game

ERA

Diff.


La-Lafayette

7.9

3.38

+4.52

Louisville

6.4

2.78

+3.62

Oklahoma State

6.2

3.27

+2.93

Texas Tech

6.2

3.27

+2.93

Kennesaw Sate

6.1

3.39

+2.71

Ole Miss

6.1

2.67

+3.43

Vanderbilt

5.6

2.67

+2.89

Virginia

5.5

2.29

+3.21

Pepperdine

5.5

2.52

+2.98

Maryland

5.4

3.36

+2.06

Houston

5.3

2.29

+3.01

TCU

5.2

2.14

+3.06

Col. Of Charleston

5.0

2.78

+2.22

Stanford

4.8

3.46

+1.34

Texas

4.6

2.36

+2.24

UC Irvine

4.4

2.82

+1.58

Just for fun, if we take the runs of each team and subtract by the ERA---because disregarding a small margin of era, is the how many runs the other team needs on average to beat said tea---rather than use runs allowed per game of each team, we get a differential.

The size of the gap, multiplied by the team’s RPI may tell us who holds the bigger advantage in each match-up.


Team


Adjusted Score

La-Lafayette

2.70

Louisville

2.08

Ole Miss

2.02

Virginia

1.94

TCU

1.82

Houston

1.81

Vandy

1.74

Tech

1.73

OSU

1.71

Pepperdine

1.70

Kennesaw State

1.48

Texas

1.33

CoC

1.23

Maryland

1.16

UC-Irvine

.88

Stanford

.75

Though these stats are through the Regionals an might be a good way to rank teams during the season, they still aren’t telling the whole story. What this is really scoring is the strength of balance. So while good balance wins you a lot of games is it still a deep bullpen that wins National Championships?

I don’t want to spoil Moneyball for you, but Billie Bean’s sabermetrics don’t win the A’s the World Series. As we’ve come to find out---when you’re playing in a playoff setting, more often than not, it’s the deep pitching that wins. For the casual fan, they look at La-Lafayette’s RPG and see the 7.9 and their jaw drops. It’s a lot of runs per game sure, but maybe they ran the score up a few times on some really bad teams. Things tend to change in a tournament setting when you’re playing 1-2 games over the weekend against much presumably better talent. The last 3 of 4 teams to win it all in Omaha had Top-10 ERAs, with the only exception being Arizona. It should also be noted that each runner-up had a Top-20 ERA.

Year


Winner

Winner’s ERA

Rank


Runner-Up


Runner-Up’s ERA


Rank


2010

South Carolina

3.38

7th

UCLA

3.00

2nd

2011


(BBCOR introduced)


South Carolina

2.45

5th

Florida

2.93

16th

2012

Arizona

3.70

71st

South Carolina

2.97

11th

2013

UCLA

2.55

6th

Mississippi State

2.79

15th

However, Arizona was 2nd that year in runs, 4th in BA and 7th in RPG. Could La-Lafayette be the exception we see every couple of year? With the number’s they’re putting up, they very well could be. Here are some of Arizona’s other stats from that year…

Year


Winner

Winner’s BA

Rank


Runner-Up


Runner-Up’s BA


Rank


2010

South Carolina

.300

173

UCLA

.304

146th

2011


(BBCOR introduced)


South Carolina

.294

81st

Florida

.307

24th

2012

Arizona

.329

4th

South Carolina

.266

213th

2013

UCLA

.252

241st

Mississippi State

.275

114th

Year


Winner

Winner’s RPG

Rank


Runner-Up


Runner-Up’s RPG


Rank


2010

South Carolina

3.38

7th

UCLA

3.00

2nd

2011


(BBCOR introduced)


South Carolina

2.45

5th

Florida

2.93

16th

2012

Arizona

3.70

71st

South Carolina

2.97

11th

2013

UCLA

2.55

6th

+2.71

Mississippi State

15th

Method to the Madness

Right now, Houston, TCU, Texas, Pepperdine, Ole Miss, and Virginia are ahead of the curve. They may not hit many home runs or possess many other Iggy-Azalea-fancy offensive stats, but the effectiveness of deep pitching is once again proving itself. Teams like this are built for Omaha. Many doubted Texas would make it this far after a mid-season collapse defined by bad hitting, and not scoring many runs---significantly less runs than Virginia, TCU, and Houston who don't score many runs themselves. But, guess what? They're here.


Right now, TCU is boasting a .282 batting average, the 72nd in the country, which may be better than most fans think it is. The pitching is so dominant, the runs are sporadic, and they leave an absurdly high number of runners on base. Shifts in the game happen and the stats show it. The great players, both offensive and pitchers, are still great players, it's just that the sexier stats don’t always favor the trend. Thus is why it's easy to look at a team like TCU and be worried about its future in the Supers, and (potentially) the College World Series. But the team's 30-3 since April 1st for good reason.

Like we've learned with Petyr Baelish, the most effective methods take some time. While it's up for debate as to whether Schloss will accept the "Littlefinger" sobriquet, it's clear now why he built this team the way he has. It's a method built to survive for the long-term, not only for the coarse of a season, but for seasons as far as the eye can see. Schloss' hybrid-smallball may be frustratingly slow at times, but it's all about adapting to the current trends and playing the game---and right now Lord Schlossnagle is playing the "game" as good as anyone.

We just have to face it---It's pitcher's world right now, and we're just living it.

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